Troubles Not Solved in Northern Ireland | Inside Europe | DW | 11.12.2008
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Inside Europe

Troubles Not Solved in Northern Ireland

A multi-party power-sharing agreement was reached in 1998 in Northern Ireland. But 10 years down the line, Catholic Irish nationalists and Protestants loyal to Britain remain deeply divided.

A mural in Derry, Northern Ireland

The Bogside artists paint huge murals about the neighborhood's past

The Bogside neighborhood of Derry will forever be inextricably linked with the Troubles in Northern Ireland. This conflict raged for 30 years in the country, claiming many lives.

This catholic, Irish nationalist area of town was the scene of numerous protests, riots and deadly violence, the most famous of which was Bloody Sunday.

"Things like that are still open wounds, there are a lot of unsolved cases, killing at the hands of the state which haven't been addressed," says local artist Tom Kelly.

A mural in Derry, Northern Ireland

This is the corner where Bloody Sunday took place in 1972

"There are sectarian undertones that are very much still alive, passed on by parents," he says. "And it's going to take a lot of thinking, a lot of courage to examine the wounds, to have the courage to clean them out and see them heal properly."

It's through their work that the Bogside artists are trying to make sense of the neighborhood's past and start the healing process -- not just for the community, but also for themselves. All three men lost family members during the Troubles.

The huge murals they have painted on the walls of the houses along Rossville Street depict the painful, shared experiences of a divided community. It has become known as the "People's Gallery."

According to Tom, the aim is to take Derry's story back from the media and tell it themselves, through the eyes of those who lived through the Troubles.

"The Bogside artist's work has always been entitled from protest to peace," he says. "We don't skirt around the issues, don't shy away from difficult things, like killing of children, bombs, kneecapping, tar and featherings, informants being shot, or people going missing never to be found."

Sharing a divided community

Just under a mile away from the Bogside is the Fountain Estate. It's the last Protestant enclave on the city side of Derry. This tiny minority of unionists loyal to Britain remain, surrounded by a sea of catholic Irish nationalists.

A mural in Derry, Northern Ireland

The Fountain Estate is a Protestant enclave

Each year on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, they hold a remembrance service marking the end of the First World War and commemorating those who fell, fighting for Britain.

For many nationalists, this day is a symbol of British occupation. They refuse to buy the plastic poppies, sold every year to raise funds for British Army charities.

To show that both communities suffered greatly in the First World War, Jeanette Warke took a group of young Catholics and Protestants to the battlefields in France and Belgium. Although she's a member of the Protestant community, Warke works with youngsters from across the divide on the Shared City project. Education, she says, is the key to really ending the Troubles.

"It's all very well talking about the signing of the Good Friday agreement, but everyone forgot about the kids," Warke says. "Some of them were born into the middle of it and I don't think they know what happened. It's only what they can get out of people at the table or at the street corner."

During the Troubles, children had nowhere to go at night and more often than not, they got caught up with paramilitary groups. To combat that, Warke's late husband David set up the Cathedral Youth Club on the Fountain estate. Still today, it's one of the only alternatives for young Protestants living on the city side of Derry.

"The young people I work with here, they don't go downtown to shop unless they are in a group," Warke says. "They are often targeted, often beaten up just going to local shops."

In this respect, Derry can be seen as a microcosm of the whole situation in Northern Ireland: Two societies living parallel lives. A range of projects have been successful in bringing young Catholics and Protestants together, though.

One country, two identities

There has been great progress in community relations in Derry. Yet many within the Protestant minority community feel they do not have a stake in their own city.

In order to bridge the gap, risks need to be taken. That's the philosophy of Mayor Gerad Diver. Recently, he held a reception in the town hall for troops from Derry, returning home after serving with the British Army in Iraq.

"Some political figures thought it inappropriate for me as an Irish nationalist to do that, given the history of the British army in this part of the world," Diver says. "But the Territorial Army members are very much citizens of this city. And as mayor, I have to be first citizen for everyone, irrespective of their background."

Parliament Buildings, Stormont, in Belfast, Northern Ireland,

Sinn Fein and the DUP work together in the Northern Irish parliament

Identity is a major issue: the nationalists want to be part of Ireland, the unionists part of Britain. So how does power-sharing work in the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly? Well, the situation on the streets has improved dramatically. And despite the differences between the major parties -- the nationalist Sinn Fein party and the unionist DUP -- power-sharing is better than the previous arrangement: direct rule from London.

For years, the province was ruled by ministers from Britain who met twice a week. Now, local issues are dealt with by locally elected representatives. And progress is at last in sight. Recently the two sides reached a deal on the devolution of policing powers from London to Belfast. The five-month deadlock had caused a complete political stalemate in the Stormont parliament.

The fact that the community accepts the work of a police force is a total transformation from seven or eight years ago, the mayor says.

"We have seen amazing things," Diver says. "We have seen a government working together who literally wouldn't speak to each other if they met on the street. We have evidence of coming together, so why can't we do it for identity? It really is just another stage in peace building."

Not ready for power-sharing

But Michael Doherty from the Peace and Reconciliation Group believes politicians are still not reaching across the divide. He says sectarianism is as raw today as it has ever been. People need to understand that although the violence is mainly over in Northern Ireland, the conflict certainly isn't, he says. And in fact, the Good Friday power-sharing agreement has only served to deepen sectarian segregation in the province.

"When the agreement was allegedly reached, the community was not ready for it," Doherty says. "My view is that DUP were forced into agreement because of plan B, which has not been talked about in the public arena." Plan B was if they didn't enter into power sharing with Sinn Fein, there would have been joint authority with the British and Irish governments sharing power in Northern Ireland, he says.

The two sides are locked in extreme positions on further issues, education for example or the building of a new sports stadium on the site of the former Maze prison. This leaves a vacuum in society, says Doherty, and gives fodder to opponents of the Agreement.

The only way to resolve this would be a clear message from the British government that they will intervene, he says. That would set the peace process back years, and could even run the risk of a return to violence.

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